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New uses for power plant hot water December 9, 2009

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in AEHI, Agriculture, economic benefits, Greenfield nuclear development, nuclear jobs, Water policy.
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Nuclear plants have advanced greatly in reactor design, safety systems, efficiency and reliability since my starting in the industry in the 1960s.

However, one area where nuclear plants – and thermal plants in general – haven’t changed much is dealing with excess heat. With a few exceptions, the approach today is much as it was 50 years ago: site the plant next to a plentiful water supply and use large amounts of water to cool the plant (with about 10-15% being  lost through those large cooling towers ). The industry’s view has been that nuclear plants are for creating large amounts of dependable, low-cost electricity – period – and that’s all baseload plants need to do.

Waste power plant heat has traditionally been viewed as nuisance, but having a plentiful supply of hot water is an incredibly useful thing. In our Idaho reactor, we will be using a hybrid cooling system, so that we’ll only lose to evaporation no more than a million gallons a day. There will be millions of gallons of heated water, however, that could sustain all kinds of industry – imagine a man-made source of geothermal water not quite hot enough to drive a power turbine, but plenty hot enough for dozens of practical uses.

Many industries spend huge amount of money heating water, usually with natural gas. Why not use a virtually free supply of hot water instead? Instead of just dissipating this hot water into the air, it could be useful  co-generation for almost any industrial process:

  • Food processing
  • Fertilizer production
  • Biofuels generation
  • Greenhouses
  • Facilities heating Crop application (where it could extend the growing season up to two weeks in each direction)
  • Recreation and wildlife habitat.

We have already had preliminary discussions with other industries interested in using this excess heat.

We have acquired existing water rights in the area and we have examined the concept of renting water from willing rights holders. Since we only need to rent water for cooling, we could return it to farmers after cooling and they could use it for whatever they were going to do in the first place.

We plan on installing cooling ponds next to our plant, useful for stepping down temperature as needed. Most American nuclear plants are located in farm or wildlife habitat areas so at the very least, the ponds will become incredible wildlife sanctuaries. But there is so much more potential.

Some reactors have used innovative approaches. Arizona’s Palo Verde plant, dating from the early 1970s, is one of the largest in the world and is the only reactor in the middle of a desert. How does it cool itself? It uses treated wastewater from Phoenix and other nearby urban areas. Of course, we aren’t proposing to use municipal wastewater to cool our plant. My point is that innovative approaches to plant cooling have been successfully tried and what we’re proposing is actually much less radical than cooling a reactor with sinks, showers and toilets. Hybrid cooling systems have been used successfully on fossil plants for years.

Of the nation’s 104 nuclear plants, only 4 are west of the Mississippi River. If nuclear plants are ever to become common in the arid West, they need to find new opportunities with cooling and heat disposal. We will take a progressive and pioneering approach with our proposed Payette reactor and use the excess reactor heat for many beneficial uses.

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